On November 2nd, 2013 I completed my first ironman. This time last year my triathlon experience included 2 sprints, 1 in which I did breast stroke on the swim and the second where I finished the race mistakenly only doing half of the bike course…
Wednesday morning we had a three-hour drive to Panama City from the airport in Pensacola, Florida. I started the day off with what would be my last run before the race. My clients know my favorite pre-race run workout well, “race-pace intervals.” These intervals are specifically designed to make you feel as though the last time you ran it was at a comfortable and manageable pace. It is a 4-minute interval, 1 minute at 4% incline .5mph faster than race pace, 1 minute at 1% incline .5mph faster than race pace, and followed by 2 minutes at 1% incline at race pace. After running the faster pace at incline, race pace feels attainable and comfortable. I like to end my last run effort feeling this way.
The next 3 days were filled with Team X²PERFORMANCE meetings, transition bag collecting, last minute purchases and numerous trips to Publix, the local grocery store. Thursday morning we did a team swim and I was taken aback at the choppiness of the waves, as well as an encounter with some jellyfish and stingrays. The closest thing I’ve seen to jellyfish in training is the elderly population at the Shelton community center doing water aerobics on Sunday mornings! I headed straight out of my practice swim for a bike ride to see what the temperature would be like. I was absolutely flying, 23mph with my heart rate in zone 2, I was feeling good and pumped that all the hard work Luc had done on my bike had paid off. Until I turned around….Welcome to the Florida winds Milly!!
On Friday my sister arrived and I was eager to get all my ironman jobs out of the way so we could spend some time together. The weather was horrendous, and there was some talk of the swim being cancelled. After dropping off all my bags and setting up my bike, we drove the run course. It went through residential areas and then there was about a mile out and back in a park. Friday afternoon it was time to get off my feet and we relaxed at the condo, had a nice hot shower after spraying some magnesium oil on. I use a combination of magnesium spray and lotion to help relieve inflammation. Surprisingly fell asleep well; my normal bedtime of 8:30 coming in handy J
Saturday morning alarm was 4:15. As normal, I didn’t need it as I jumped out of bed around 4:10. I put the kettle on, ate breakfast and got dressed. Read a few supportive messages and I was pumped and ready to go. I generally arrive late to races and cruise in in a hurry. Today we decided to bite the bullet and take the shuttle from the Walgreens parking lot to the start. I went straight to my bike to set up my bottles and put what my Mum calls “Milly’s Go-Go Balls,” an energy ball I have been making for races. I asked a girl in my section if I could borrow her pump, she rolled her eyes and said to her friend “We need to get out of here.” I decided to go to the men’s section and a nice man actually pumped my tires for me!
We headed down to the swim start just as it was getting light. I downed my X²PERFORMANCE , and went for a little jog, blasted my song of the moment “Wake me up.” Did my normal dynamic stretching routine and got suited in my wetsuit. Finally the sun was rising and it was gorgeous down by the beach. It was a mass start, meaning everyone would go at the same time. This was my first time dealing with this type of start. You had to self-seed yourself in your expected finish time. My goal was 1:30, although I was nervous about reaching that with the rough nature of the water, I stuck with my guns. When the gun went off everyone moved pretty slowly in the water, I was anxious to get going, the clock was running!! I think about 7 minutes past before I was actually able to take my first stroke in the water. My inexperience in swimming in a big group held me back here.
The swim was two loops, each 1.2 miles. I knew my Mum was anxious about the swim so I tried to look for her after my first lap. I couldn’t see her but was happy for a quick 100yrd run on the beach in between laps. The second lap was much easier as I was able to get in a better groove with swimming and not worry about congestion. I finished the swim in 1:33; very happy I had kept to my goal despite the conditions.
T1 held me up considerably. The run up from the beach and through the hotel was lengthy. Lucky for me I had a very experienced wet suit stripper who got mine off without a struggle. Finding the T1 bag was a tricky endeavor, but I managed to get changed fairly quickly and had someone holding my bike waiting for me.
And were off! I was so excited for the bike. 900ft of elevation gain over 112 miles; I generally do about that elevation in 1 hour in Westport, CT! I had been training staying in my aero bars so felt pretty comfortable in that position. It was cool to see some of the professionals at parts of the course. My goal here was between 6-7 hours and I did 6:30, it felt like about 20 minutes. People always ask me, “What do you think about in these long events.” Absolutely nothing, and that is the beauty of it!
As pumped as I was for the bike, I was even more excited for the run. Triathlons just get better for me as the day goes on! Transition here was a little more seamless, quick change, stuck the pockets with nutrition and here we go. My mum and sister were there on the first mile even though they had been outside our hotel around mile 110 of the bike screaming and waving. It was SO nice to see them there. My favorite sign was “I could use a trip to Hawaii!” They are both in it for the promise of a trip to Kona on me J
The run was two loops. The first loop was great, I didn’t feel too fatigued and was able to stick to a gel every half an hour like I had practice. I use Vega sport gels because they have electrolytes, then I can just sip water from the aid stations. I was running side by side with a girl whose coaching was cheering her on, “Stick with her, you got her…” I think she thought that would get to me, but it motivated me to run harder! I felt really strong throughout the first loop and was confident in my 3:30 finish for the marathon.
Once I hit mile 15, the gels were no longer my friends, and my stomach had had enough. I had done multiple long rides followed with up to 15-mile runs so at this point I was discovering new territory. The interesting thing with an Ironman is that I never reached the full distance of the race in training. With other races, I had always hit that distance and in some cases gone beyond. This taught me that next year I need to spend some time running longer after longer rides. I separated my long runs and rides out this year and next year I will put them closer together. I had to take a few walk breaks and my knee locked up on me, making the last 3 miles pretty painful. With a mile left to go adrenaline kicked in and finished with a strong pace to the finish line in 3:50, with a total time of 12 hours and 16 minutes.
I am so grateful to X²PERFORMANCE for this experience. Their product has been an integral part of my training this year and something I highly recommend. It was never in my plan to do a full ironman this year, and without this opportunity I would never have learnt what I did. I have my sights set on Kona now, yet I am happy it did not happen in Florida. Qualifying for Kona has now become a challenge for me, and a goal without a challenge is simply just a hobby. Now I have the opportunity to take what I learnt from this experience and expand on it to improve myself even more. I will do Eagleman in June and Boulder in August (a lake swim, hiller bike and run course, heat and altitude exploiting my strengths!) Looking forward to working harder than ever next year to each a whole new level!